Technology is all around us these days, and in many ways its purpose is to make our lives either more comfortable, easier or – in the medical field – healthier. And technology has also made its impact in the world of blood pressure management.
Today I am going to look at one such device which peculiarly has its roots in the Sixties, but which is being used with considerable success today helping people with hypertension manage their blood pressure.
The Zona Plus Handheld Device
So, what exactly is this intriguing-looking device? Well, to put it bluntly it is basically a…
H i g h – T e c h S t r e s s B a l l !
But when used correctly it can have amazing results in terms of lowering blood pressure, as I will describe later in the article.
Zona Plus – the origins of the science
The inspiration for the development of this device came from a rather unusual source. You see back in the Sixties when the US Air Force was beginning to deploy its newly acquired F-16 fighter jet, some of its pilots were having difficulties dealing with a condition called “G-force blackout”. This caused short term loss of vision. A solution was needed quickly, so an expert in Cardiopulmonary Physiology, Dr. R. L. Wiley was brought in to deal with the problem. The pilots were instructed, when facing the high G-forces caused by the nimble turning ability of the jet, to grab a steel rod in the cockpit as tightly as possible.
It just so happened that 2 of the pilots involved had blood pressure in the ‘pre-hypertensive range’, and Dr Riley noticed later from the data he had collected that these pilots registered normal blood pressure readings due to the sustained periods of tight squeezing of the steel rods.
An amazing discovery just by chance for sure, but one which led to the invention by Dr. Wiley of a hand-grip therapy controlled by a computer which safely and effectively lowered blood pressure.
How Zona Plus works:
Based on the scientific theory and practical application described above, the Zona Plus is in fact a hand-held smart digital device which monitors and provides feedback to the user via the onscreen instructions. These directions guide the user as to how much pressure to apply in order to stay within the limits for optimal lowering of blood pressure.
The directions below illustrate how the device works:
Step 1 . First, squeeze the machine as hard as you can with your right hand for about 2 seconds.
Switch to your left hand and do the same. This determines the optimal grip strength needed for your session, since this can vary daily.
Step 2 . The instructions on the screen will tell you to hold for 2 minutes, followed by a one-minute rest break.
Then you complete the same sequence a second time.
Step 3 . Next switch to your other hand and follow the same instructions. The entire session lasts only 12 minutes!
By faithfully following the instructions and using the device 5 times a week, the manufacturer claims that the user will see positive results on his/her blood pressure within a 12 week period, and in some cases after only 6 weeks. Positive results are considered as an average drop of about 15 points systolic and 10 points diastolic.
Does the Zona Plus deliver?
When investigating the effectiveness of the Zona Plus handheld therapy device and whether indeed it lives up to its claims, I took into consideration two things:
- how strongly does scientific evidence support these claims
- the actual personal experiences of people who have used/or are using the machine
The Scientific Evidence:
The studies which have been conducted into the effects of isometric hand-grip training upon hypertension (the Zona Plus website itself cites 22 of them!) do in fact conclude that this type of training results in a significant drop in blood pressure. The Zona Plus handheld device is directly referenced in several of the studies, and one study in particular acknowledges that:
“the hand grips available from Zona Health help fill the current void for IHG (Isometric Hand Grip) products. The ability to take the hand grip anywhere, regardless of electrical outlets and personal computers, allows continuous training in any environment (work, home, or travel).”
There is also a favourable review of the Zona Plus device published by the Harvard Health Publications (Harvard Medical School) which looked at 8 different studies. Their overall finding was that Systolic Blood Pressure dropped on average by 14 points, but that Diastolic Blood Pressure did not see the same improvement. However they completed their review by concluding that the acquisition of a Zona Plus device:
“may be money well spent, though, if it keeps your blood pressure under control
or lets you eliminate a blood pressure drug from your daily handful of pills.”
My other source of validation for the usage of this Isometric Hand Grip machine comes from users who have seen for themselves exactly what the Zona Plus can do for them. The reviews on the Zona Health website itself are all 5 stars, so I discounted these, not because they were necessarily untrue, but rather because most product websites are usually not likely to post negative feedback! As a result this does not give us the full picture.
So I went to a more unbiased source – Amazon to check out consumer feedback:
Of note, these reviews are for the Zona Plus 2 model, not Zona Plus 3 which is the latest model offered by Zona Health and which seems to be replacing the harder to find Zona Plus 2. The Zona 3 has a coloured display screen (instead of black and white), and it also comes with a USB cable and software which lets you keep a record of your daily progress on your computer. However at this time there are only 8 reviews for this Zona Plus 3 model on Amazon.
So, about 50% of the feedback was very positive and supported the effectiveness of the machine in lowering blood pressure, and even in some cases allowing the user to come off some of their BP medications. Those who were unhappy with the Zona Plus stated that it did not work for them period, even after giving it a fair trial (Zona recommends at least 8 weeks). In a few cases using the machine actually resulted in elevated BP!! Pricing itself was another source of contention, and problems with customer service over returning the machine also featured in one or two of the criticisms.
It should be noted that this machine is not recommended for people who have arthritis or suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, as the squeezing pressure required will aggravate these conditions.
Of course, it is always advisable to consult with your GP first before starting this type of therapy.
My Take on the Zona Plus:
I believe the science which stands behind the Zona Plus to be solid. There is ample research to support and back up the application of isometric handgrip exercises to help lower blood pressure.
The significant thing is that the Zona Plus takes this one step further. The researchers at Zona Health have figured out through years of trial and error what the ideal parameters are for squeezing with the right amount of pressure for the exact amount of time. The built in computer analyzes the amount of squeeze pressure and gives immediate feedback to the user, which optimizes the results for each person using it. This is a very precise device and is exactly what puts the Zona Plus in a completely different league way above other simple hand squeeze objects, such as a ball or spring-loaded handgrips.
It is indeed unfortunate that this device will not work for everyone, and the company estimates about 10% of users will not get the desired results. However, if you do decide to give the Zona Plus a try and it does indeed “deliver on the goods” it promises, then I am convinced that you will be more than satisfied with the investment.
For those who are concerned about the price, Zona Health does offer a 90 day full money back guarantee should the device not deliver the results expected of it. Another plus is that the machine may also be shared by family members, since it recalibrates each time it is used.
I hope this look at the Zona Plus isometric handgrip machine was useful, and I would love to hear from anyone who has in fact had personal experience using it. If you have any questions or comments about it generally, please leave them below.